Brigid Berlin, artist and Andy Warhol muse, has died.
Berlin was the eldest of three daughters born to socialite parents, Muriel “Honey” Berlin and Richard Berlin, who was chairman of the Hearst media empire for 32 years.
As a child, Berlin regularly mixed with celebrities and the powerful:
“I would pick up the phone and it would be Richard Nixon. My parents entertained Lyndon Johnson, J. Edgar Hoover, and there were lots of Hollywood people because of San Simeon – Clark Gable, Joan Crawford, Dorothy Kilgallen… I have a box of letters, written to my parents in the late 1940s and 1950s from the Duke and Duchess of Windsor.
Her socialite mother worried about Brigid’s weight and constantly attempted to get her to lose it through any means, from giving her cash for every pound she lost at age 11 to having the family doctor prescribe amphetamines.
“My mother wanted me to be a slim, respectable socialite. Instead, I became an overweight troublemaker.”
She was married to John Parker, a window dresser in 1960. As Andy Warhol observed in his book Popism:
“When Brigid brought her window dresser fiancé home to meet the family, her mother told the doorman to tell him to wait on a bench across the street in Central Park. Then she handed Brigid her wedding present – a hundred dollar bill – and told her to go to Bergdorf’s and buy herself some new underwear with it. Then she added,
‘Good luck with that fairy.'”
After several years as a reluctant debutante and a failed marriage, Brigid Berlin met Warhol in 1964 and quickly became a central member of his entourage. After moving to the Chelsea Hotel she took on the nickname Brigid Polk because of her habit of giving out ‘pokes’, injections of vitamin B and amphetamines.
Berlin appeared in several of Warhol’s films, including Chelsea Girls, in which she is seen injecting herself while performing a monologue, and Ciao! Manhattan, which starred Edie Sedgwick. Decades later, she appeared in minor parts in two John Waters‘ films: Serial Mom and Pecker.
Berlin was complicit in one of Warhol’s more infamous pranks when, in 1969, Warhol announced that all of his paintings were the work of Berlin. Brigid enthusiastically followed this line when interviewed by Time. The prank led to a drop in the value of Warhol’s work, and both parties eventually retracted their statements.
In 1975, Brigid Berlin began working for Interview magazine, a position that she held until well after Warhol’s death. Berlin transcribed interviews as well as knitted under the desk. Patty Hearst, a close friend of Berlin who began work at the magazine in 1988, said,
“On my first day at work, I noticed two small pugs who seemed to have the run of the castle. They belonged to a woman who sat behind the front desk every day from 9:00 to 5:00, but who never seemed to answer the phone. Instead, she compulsively knitted, ate bags of candy and tended lovingly to the dogs.”
Berlin is somewhat less famous for her art. Her “Tit Prints” were created using her bare breasts, dipping them into multiple colored paints and then create a print by pressing them down onto canvas/paper.
Berlin would publicly create these boob mono prints, integrating visual art and performance art, once at the Gramercy International Art Fair where John Waters saw her. He later said
“I think that she’s the most unselfconscious nude person… [She has] great confidence for a fat girl.”
Pie in the Sky: The Brigid Berlin Story is a documentary where she tells her life story and breaks her diet by consuming an entire meal of key lime pie. In its review, Variety said at the time,
“Berlin comes across as a rather sad character despite her colorful and provocative life.”
Berlin had three siblings, all younger: sister Richie, youngest sister Christina “Chrissy” Berlin, who was instrumental in engineering the defection of Russian ballet star Mikhail Baryshnikov; and the youngest sibling, brother Richard Berlin Jr.